Saturday, July 4, 2015

And I'm Bound To Keep On Ridin'

Todd lay in the dark for his last night in the little turquoise RV. There was a queen size bed taking up the entire back alcove, with a narrow hallway between the mechanicals and the tiny bathroom, opening at the other end on the postage stamp kitchen, sitting and dining area. He could close a pocket door here and have a closet-sized bedroom if he wished.

He had yet to do that, though, since his tall frame barely fit the bed or the walls around it. Closing the door would only make him feel more trapped.

The ceiling back here curved up and forward, reminding him a little of the inside of a shell. His mind drifted as he stared up at it, only half seeing it.

It had taken a couple days after the loss of his parents before he'd decided to get moving, to hurry back to Minnesota and look for Eve and the children. One of the neighbors in that sprawling farmland and woodland where his parents had their little cabin had been a survivalist; he was also a Red Flu Rioter. Todd had killed him very carefully, trying to save the useful looking military jacket from bloodstains. The neighbor had been trapped in his own bomb shelter, and unfortunately, quite a mess was made.

Luckily there had been another military coat in with the supplies Todd had raided after dispatching the zombie neighbor. He also helped himself to the enormous Ford F750 and the trailer that was sturdy almost to the point of being armored. He took everything he could fit in the trailer and truck, all the food and wool blankets and first aid supplies and all the weapons and ammunition. Turned out most of the zombie's survival supplies fit pretty well in the truck and trailer, and Todd assumed that had been the point.

A day later and farther North, he'd found Marvelle Jones and Ryan Michael Crombey, sitting on her front porch, Galaxie prancing at her feet. Ryan had been her neighbor; his father had sent him to hide in her tornado shelter while he'd fought off a biter that had already destroyed Ryan's mother and sister. Later, privately, Marvie told Todd that biter had actually been Ryan's uncle, who had taken shelter with the Crombeys when the riots started.

Ryan and Marvie had stayed in the tornado shelter for days, until lack of food had sent them back into Marvie's little shack of a house. They'd taken to sitting on the porch during the brightest hours to watch for travelers in hope rescue would come.

Well, Marvie sat. Ryan free-wheeled all over the yard and porch like an overly caffeinated bird. And Todd stayed the night, then helped them get Marvie's ancient motor home running well enough to follow the F750 down the highways.

A week later, parked in some desolate little town, combing through a combination bar and gas station for supplies, Todd had noticed a wary young face watching them through a crack in a heavy bathroom door. He borrowed Galaxie to lure out the watcher and found Kirsten and her toddler brother Kolby. Marvie had scooped up the toddler and taken the children under her wing, giving them shelter in her motor home as the growing group continued their journey North.

It was with great relief when the next two survivors Todd came across were grown and healthy adults who could help defend the more vulnerable survivors he'd already gathered up. Both had simply walked up into camp on their own; Tim as evening fell about a week after Kirsten and Kolby had been found, Lewis Pontillion one morning after having been watching them since the night before. It was Lewis that had the travel trailer that he and Tim took to sleeping in, the rickety thing that Marvie pulled with her own motor home. At that point, Todd was in the habit of sleeping in the truck.

At least until he found this RV and thought how much Eve would love it. She had a powerful fondness for mid-century colors and design. “The end of the world had come to a halt, and people were so optimistic!” she said. “It is architecture of blooming and hope.”

He'd wanted her to have this piece of that optimism, but it was more important to simply find the Aubreys and make sure they were safe. She'd managed to text him a few times in the first days after the riots started, but then his phone had died, and even after he found the solar charger in the survivalist's bunker, there had been no signal. At least they'd been alive and safe last time he'd heard, so he was going to find them and bring them to the Fort and keep that little family safe.

Todd didn't remember falling asleep, but he woke up to the smell of coffee. It was hard to find sugar anymore, but coffee apparently hadn't smelled like food to the rioters. He sat up, careful not to scrape his head on the curve of the roof.

Ryan stood in the squeezed hallway, holding a cup of coffee very carefully and trying very hard and very obviously not to become un-still and drop it.

Thank you, young sir,” Todd said gratefully, and Ryan beamed at him. Todd took the cup so Ryan could go back to being Ryan, tracing the outlines of the cupboard and tapping things with some interest. The older man drank the hot, rich coffee as fortification. Young Ryan chattered and fiddled with the camper. “Hey, buddy, take this cup back to Marvie and then come help me move my stuff out of here, ok?” Todd said when he finished the cup. Ryan nodded eagerly and grabbed the cup to return it to Marvie. Todd sighed a moment later to see the boy running around the campsite trying to catch some small rodent with the cup.

“Redirect and support good behavior,” he murmured. “Never show fear. They smell fear. And donuts.” Leaning out of the RV, he caught Kirsten's attention and nodded at Ryan. The older girl ran and reminded him of where the cup belonged. Miffed, Ryan stalked back to Marvie's motor home to return the cup.

“Thanks, kid,” Todd said, when Kirsten came back to him. “Everyone up?”

“Yes, sir,” Kirsten said. “Except Kolby, but we'll let him sleep until we're on our way. Miss Marvie said to tell you she needs you when you get up. Lewis and Tim got everything squared away so we're ready to go once you have your stuff out of your camper.”

Todd handed her a battered old Jansport backpack. “This is my stuff. And I've got a box of stuff I'm keeping from the camper. Can you put this bag and the box on the dining bench into Joy Rider for me and I'll go check in with Marvie?”

Done and done!” she said smartly, clearly glad for any job that wasn't wrangling the younger children.

I'm low on my medications,” Marvie said, solemnly. “I know what I need and I know we need to keep moving, but...”

“We can't make it without you, Miss Marvie,” Todd said, affectionately. “We'll stop at the next standing pharmacy we see. Got a list?”

Of course I do, I ain't about wasting your time, young Todd.” She gave him her sweet, wide smile, her pink gums flashing in the early light. She handed him a note in neat script with three medications listed. “My blood pressure medicine, my medicine that helps with the acid from the blood pressure medicine, and my arthritis medicine.”

“Got it,” he said. “Done and done. We could use the stop to grab a lot of useful things.”

“Just leave us a good gunslinger to keep us safe while you forage, ok?”

Of course! Not that I have any doubt you could simply charm the zombies into obedience. I figure I'll take Lewis and Tim can stand guard. First decent pharmacy we see.”

Are we ready?” she asked, with that big smile.

We are always ready,” Todd said. “I'll go start up Joy Rider and off we'll go. Soon as I make sure everyone has their radio on.”

That's a big old chain pharmacy off on the left there,” Todd said into the radio, some hours later. “Still early enough in the day we can stop and grab some things, and if we park near enough, we can come back in the morning, too.”

Sounds good,” Lewis said, from the truck. “I'm thinking there's a rest stop about a mile and a half up. Good place for camp.”

ROGER,” Ryan shouted into the radio.

Got it,” Tim said a moment later, having grabbed the radio back from the boy. Tim generally drove for Marvie, who liked to sit in the dining booth and try to keep Ryan occupied with games and books. “Let's get the to the rest stop, and y'all can head back to the pharmacy.”

The rest stop was a vast, empty parking lot, an overgrown field, and a squat little building with vending machines, and two dark and cobwebbed bathrooms separated by gender. There was an old fashioned water pump outside and an RV dumping station.

Thank the Lord,” Marvie said. “It is beyond time for that.”

It all looks good around here,” Lewis said, walking back to the parked vehicles after his circuit of the rest stop. “Opened up the vending machines.”

“YES,” Ryan said, and Kirsten scooped up Kolby and they all hurried to grab snacks.

“I'll help empty the holding tanks and refill the water,” Tim said, making a bit of a face. “See you guys when you get back.”

“Keep an eye out,” Todd warned. “We'll be fast.”

“Easy peasy,” Tim said. “I'll make sure everyone's in before the light starts to fade. Don't worry about us. Worry about you guys.”